Rissani Hotel – Bags!
Trip to Merzouga
On to Er Rachidia
Back for dinner!
We wanted to head out to Merzouga today. Hearing all the stories about it being only hotels and touts, we decided to leave our bags here, and day trip it, before heading back to Er Rachidia tonight. If all goes according to plan.
On checking out of the hotel, we asked to leave our bags here. A standard request that has never been a problem anywhere else. Here it was a lot of effort, and they wanted to charge us for it! For a supposedly mid range hotel, they could use a lot of work on their customer service skills. Still, we were able to drop them in a room downstairs and head out. The grand taxi station next door does not go to Merzouga, as we found out when we asked, however they were more thn happy to tell us where to go, and as we were walking, one of the taxi guys drove up and gave us a lift. It was not too far, just in the centre of town, but the thought was appreciated. Here we found our taxi. Sitting there waiting as is the norm, our driver asked a friend of his to translate for him. He just wanted to know the exact place we wanted to go. We said that we would like to be dropped a few kilometres away from Merzouga itself, as we thought there were dunes we could see on this side of the town. No problems.
The drive out is quite nice, we passed through black plains, with the ranges stretching out on either side of us. It resembled the ironstone planes of central Queensland. There was very little traffic, and we even had an extra space in the vehicle, so were not crammed in a sardine tin. At the turnoff to Merzouga, the driver wanted to know if we were at the right place. There was nothing here, other than the road continuing towards the next town, so we said Merzouga would be fine. On arriving, we found ourselves in a ghost town.
There were probably three people visible other than the passengers in our taxi. The dunes loomed up behind the buildings, and we even saw tumble weed rolling down the centre of the main road. Well, that’s not quite true, but we could imagine it! This is not the place we had been told it was. It is off season, and after New Years, but there was not a tout to be seen. No-one offering to take us around on camels, buggies, or 4WD’s. No one trying to sell us a carpet, or even take us to their families hotel. A few signposts were out advertising Auberges, guesthouses, and hotels, but not a town that is all accomodation and no town…
Progressing unhindered through the village towards the dunes, we came to the Merzouga Palmerie. Here there were a few people working in their fields, or enjoying the shade. We were greeted with Bonjours as we went through, but just out of politeness, rather than “Bonjour, let me help part you from your money”
At the far end of the Palmerie, there was a retaining wall that has been built to try and keep the sand from inundating the area. This was fairly tall on our side, but when we made it to the top of the wall, it was an easy step into the sands of the sahara…
The dunes were still off in the distance, but there was already sand everywhere. A few bare patches where the wind had swept it clear, and as we walked towards Erg Chebbi, we came across another dune trap. It does seem to work a little to stabilise the sands, but it will be an ongoing process, as once the sand trap is full, they will have to put another on top to stop it from going over. In time it will create a new dune there, but should stop it spreading as quickly.
Past this, signs of human habitation almost cease. At the base of the dunes, there are a few remnants of where there used to be plantations with the odd water tank standing out above the sand, and tracks everywhere, but that was it. Finding a nice place with two old water tanks and a couple of trees in the shade of a dune, we stopped for breakfast. It was a peaceful place, and we could listen to the birds chirping as they jumped from branch to branch. Now we felt as if we could tackle the desert proper. Walking up and into the dunes, we saw a massive one right in front of us. Thinking this was too big to start, and that we needed a bit of practice sand walking first, we went up a smaller one. From here there was a great panoramic view back over the village, palmerie and dunes.
Following the crest along was easier than walking up and down the sides of the dunes, and we got to see a camel train going past carting the tourists on their trek. It was a good sight, and made a perfect image of the desert, but seeing that they were following there own tracks back out of the dunes, we were glad we decided against taking a camel trip. This close to town there were tracks everywhere. People walk over this area extensively, and there were also numerous car and bike tracks over all the dunes. Thinking we wanted to get away from this a bit, we headed around and behind the big dune. Not far away, you could no longer see Merzouga, or even the end of the dunes. Even though this erg is only 7km wide at its widest part, it feels much bigger. There was a sea of dunes, with the waves stacked on top of each other into the distance. The formations were the ripples and waves in the ocean. Colours changing depending on the orientation of the dunes, and shadows giving texture to the unending yellow. Closer to the edge it was a vibrant yellow, but here it was more a golden orange. Off into the distance there were reds, bright oranges, and even grey dunes.
By now the tracks of other people were starting to disappear, and as there was no one in sight, we could believe we were the only ones within thousands of kilometres. The top of each dune presented its own unique view, with different shading and texture. Animal tracks started appearing on the sides of the dunes. Mainly birds and small lizards, but also beetle and other larger life, although the only things we saw out here were flies. The wind was sculpting the tops into sinuous lines. Ripples leading up to the top on one side, and smooth sand on the other. Some of these lines stretched to the horizon, and others only a few metres. Walking up another very large dune, you could see the far end of the desert. Purple due to the distance, there was an escarpment peering out from behind the dunes, only visible in places where there were small valleys. On the next dune we could even see snow capped peaks way off in the distance to the north. Where else can you be sitting on a sand dune in the desert and see snow?
By now it was time to start heading back, and the biggest dune in the area was calling to us. We made our way up a series of smaller ones until we reached a spur going all the way up. Following this we made our way to the top. Here was a spectacular tableau. It was a composite of everything we had seen up to now. Mountain ranges, Merzouga, a speck of a town below us, with dark plains behind it all the way to the next line of mountains, and red dunes merging into orange and through to yellowing a smooth gradient.
Sliding all the way down, we headed back to town.
Here we had to wait for a taxi. A few people came up to talk to us, and we expressed our surprise at the town. It was apparent that other people had not stayed at Merzouga itself, but at a cluster of hotels and auberges further north. The problem for us though is that not much traffic comes to town itself, and we could be waiting for a while, as it was not market day. On market days there is a lot of vehicles going backwards and forwards. Just not today. There would be a bus late at night that would take us all the way to Er Rachidia, but we needed to pick up our bags. On hearing this, our new friend flagged down a passing car to take us to the turn off, where we had more chance of getting a lift. Once there, it was a matter of minutes until a grand taxi went past in the right direction. Climbing in, we had it all to ourselves back to Rissani. Grabbed our bags and went to get another taxi. There was a bit of a dispute over the cost of our bags, but when they realised we had been in Morocco for more than an hour, they relented (probably more to do with the fact they didn’t have enough people to fill the taxi otherwise). It was about 100km to Er Rachidia, and we were glad to get out by the end. Again we had underestimated the distance and time to get somewhere.
Checking into the same hotel as before, we returned to the small cafe restaurant to devour another spicy tanjine. I still think this small place with only four chairs does the best tanjines in all Morocco! Full,and exhausted it was time to turn in.